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U.S. wants faster European action on debt crisis

By Glenn Somerville and David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will use a finance ministers' meeting in Paris this weekend to ratchet up pressure on Europe to deal with its debt crisis swiftly before it derails a fragile global recovery, a top U.S. Treasury Department official said on Wednesday.

Speaking ahead of a Group of 20 finance chiefs' meeting on Friday and Saturday, Under Secretary for International Affairs Lael Brainard said the meeting was likely to be "tightly focused" on how to strengthen growth.

"Against a backdrop of elevated risks to the recovery, the United States will intensify our call for resolute action." Brainard said, adding that Europe "presents the most serious risk to the global recovery today."

The United States and other nations have grown increasingly impatient as Europe has struggled for agreement on how to prevent a debt crisis that first struck peripheral nations from spreading to larger, more central nations.

Brainard, in a relatively rare on-the-record briefing by the U.S. Treasury's top diplomat, warned the delay was putting the global economy at risk.

FORCEFUL ACTION NEEDED

"Restoring financial stability will depend on accelerated and forceful solutions," she said. "Fortunately Europe has the capacity and the resources to resolve this challenge, but the consequences of delay are growing and the calls for solutions are broadening."

Slowing growth and slumping financial markets have created strain within the Group of 20 rich and developing economies that make up 85 percent of global output, in contrast to 2009 when the group launched a coordinated stimulus to pull the world economy back from the brink.

Brainard said President Barack Obama had consulted British and French leaders and said she expected "robust discussion" in Paris about Europe's plans.

"We in the United States have a very significant stake. Europe's strength and stability matter greatly to the confidence of our own consumers and financial markets and to our own recovery," she said.

In response to a question about what other institutions, like the International Monetary Fund, could do to assist Europe, Brainard suggested the first step is up to Europe.

"The issue at hand is, first and foremost, Europe has ... substantial capacity. The world wants to come together around Europe's plan but the first step of that will be to have the comprehensive plan on the table with the full mobilization of European resources," she said.

CHINA SHOULD HELP

Emerging-market countries such as China also have a key role to play in helping rebalance growth and enhance chances for continued expansion.

"China and other emerging markets have a bigger role to play in bolstering and sustaining global growth nations," she said, adding pointedly that "those with large current account surpluses have substantial capacity to pivot more rapidly to a pro-growth strategy driven by consumption."

In an obvious reference to China, Brainard added that greater exchange-rate flexibility was "a critical mechanism" for that to occur. She said China has let its yuan rise by about 10 percent since June 2010 but said the United States will keep pushing for faster appreciation.

Brainard said the IMF should play a more forceful role in ensuring that nations permit exchange rates to adjust as needed to avoid economic disruption and imbalances in trade.

Among measures needed in Europe, Brainard said it was vital that policymakers take "steps to ensure that European banks have requisite liquidity and capital to maintain the full confidence of depositors and creditors."

She added that recent liquidity measures from the European Central Bank and discussions among European banking regulators regarding stronger capital cushions showed they were working to improve standards.

(Editing by James Dalgleish)

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